What Are Your Odds Of Getting In?

by on February 25th, 2013

An Eagle Scout, he works in equity research at a large asset management firm. With a 740 GMAT and a 3.55 grade point average from a highly ranked university, this 27-year-old professional wants an MBA to some day start his own investment management company.

A first generation college graduate, he boasts undergraduate and master’s degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology. For the past two years, he has been working in a quantitative derivatives role for a bulge bracket bank and now wants an MBA to help him make the switch to venture capital.

After a stint as a law clerk for a federal appellate court judge, this 26-year-old attorney has been working in corporate law for a Top 20 law firm. With a 700 GMAT and a 3.8 GPA from a state university, he is hoping an MBA will allow him to transition into investment banking or corporate strategy.

What these MBA applicants share in common is the goal to get into one of the world’s best business schools. Do they have the raw stats and experience to get an invite? Or are they likely to end up in a reject pile?

Sanford “Sandy” Kreisberg, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com, is back again to analyze these and a few other profiles of actual MBA applicants who have shared their vital statistics with Poets&Quants.

As he has in the past, Kreisberg handicaps each potential applicant’s odds of getting into a top-ranked business school. If you include your own stats and characteristics in the comments on Poets & Quants (please add your age and be clear on the sequence of your jobs in relaying work experience), we’ll pick a few more and have Kreisberg assess your chances in a follow-up feature next week.

Sandy’s assessment:

Mr. Eagle Scout

  • 740 GMAT
  • 3.55 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree from a well-respected, non-Ivy school (think Georgetown, USC, UCLA, UVA)
  • Work experience includes four years at a large asset management firm, with $400 billion+ assets under management; started out as a junior PM and transitioned into full-time equity research; firms has hired MBAs from Harvard, Wharton and Tuck but has no history of sending anyone to an MBA program
  • Extracurricular involvement as an Eagle Scout; studied abroad in Rome; worked for a professional sports team during college; assisted undergrad athletic department with game-day operations; mentor and two sequential leadership positions for a national non-profit helping low-income students get into college; member of city’s young professional civic engagement group, which assists the mayor in shaping city policies. Attained CFA charter; avid sports fan, completed a marathon, and enjoy traveling to beaches all over the world (Sicily, Florida, Australia, Thailand, France, Caribbean).
  • Goal: To develop a global network of intelligent investors and business contacts.
  • Long-term goal: To start my own investment management firm (could probably use some guidance)
  • 27-year-old white male

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 30% to 40%
Stanford: 20% to 30%
Wharton: 40+%
Chicago: 50%
Columbia: 50%
MIT: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmm, Eagle Scout with 3.55 from a UVA-type school and a 740, with “4 years at a large asset management firm ($400 billion+ assets under management)” doing lots of things and landing in equity research. Totally regular white guy, well-meaning (“mentor, and 2 sequential leadership positions for a national non-profit helping low-income students get into college”) and “member of city’s young professional civic engagement group.” And importantly, “firm has hired MBAs from HBS, Wharton, Tuck, but no history of sending anyone to an MBA program . . . .”

Close one, but guys like you often do not get into HBS or Stanford but often get into Wharton. Beyond that, you are “solid” at places like Chicago, Booth, Columbia, MIT (add Tuck, they go for straight arrows like you) — all of which will like your smarts, your many and strong white-bread attributes, and your accomplishments. At HBS and Stanford, there is just nothing driving you in, and your legacy of “silver” not “gold” schooling and employment often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The issue there is whether your real solid extras and solid enough stats will be enough.

I take very seriously your firm’s lack of success in placing people in MBA programs — either because people do not apply or do not get accepted. That just strikes me as odd. The one long shot is to have a big-shot at your firm call or bang on the table at HBS and Wharton and say, “Hey there, we hire clowns from your programs, sooooo, how about a little reciprocity???” (Well, that would be the sentiment; I assume big shots know how to communicate that idea.) At Wharton, that could help too but they could like you all by yourself since you are solid, have a super GMAT, and they don’t consider finance a dirty word.

“Goal: to develop a global network of intelligent investors and business contacts. Long-term: to start my own investment management firm (could probably use some guidance).”

I would recast this along the lines of becoming a leader of an investment management firm focused on A, B or C (do some homework) where A, B and C are interests, passions, and experiences of yours. It really helps to sound focused on some part of the market, although, sure, it is just whistling in the dark.

Here’s a list (from Wikipedia!), bang on 20 of these and you may get the idea.

Ideas could include investment management firms focused on types of investments or types of investors. It’s all B.S. but it helps to sound smart and informed and focused.

If you read the websites of some of those companies, you will get the right buzzwords. Then, it is just a matter of finding the ones which work for you and making them your own.

Mr. Corporate Lawyer

  • 700 GMAT
  • 3.8 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in finance from a non-prestigious state university 3.7 GPA (master’s)
  • Masters degree in accounting from a business school ranked among the top ten by U.S. News for accounting
  • Law degree from university ranked in U.S. News’ top 50 law schools (top 5% of class)
  • Work experience includes two years doing corporate law for a top 20 law firm after working as a law clerk for a federal appellate court judge
  • Goal: “Not completely sure other than looking to explore options outside of law. Possible interests include investment banking and corporate strategy.”
  • Applying to both elite full-time MBA programs but also the best online MBA programs: “Random, I know, but possible family situations may leave an online program as my only option”
  • 26-year-old white male planning to apply during fall 2014

Odds of Success:

Full-Time MBA Programs:

Harvard: 15%
Stanford: 10%
Wharton: 30% to 40%
Northwestern: 30% to 40%

Online Programs:

MBA@UNC: 50%+
IU Direct: 60%+
Florida: 90%
Arizona State: 90%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, I’m impressed, especially with a clerkship for a federal appellate judge (how did you manage that from a non-Ivy law school? Was the Judge an alum?)

Why are you waiting until 2014? I would apply next year, during your third year at law firm. You are not getting more valuable to B-schools.

OK, brace yourself, here is bad news, HBS and Stanford admit lawyers but usually only lawyers from Harvard, Yale and Stanford. There may be exceptions but those exceptions are not white guys unless they work for Cravath or Skadden and even then . . . .

Non-lawyer types interested in Vault’s top-50 law firms can click here.

Wharton may be a bit more flexible. You note Kellogg as a B-school of interest. That could happen, given that everything else is solid, especially if you have regional contacts. You are a totally solid guy with a no-BS master’s in accounting and solid legal experience. If going to business school is really important to you, I would cast a wider net and include Columbia, Berkeley, NYU, Duke, and Darden.

You say that may consider online MBA programs such as UNC, IU Direct, Florida and Arizona State? Phew, not clear to me what the payoff of that would be, it would not help you get a job in investment banking or corporate strategy, although you might learn some worthwhile basics. I sure hope you are not planning to give up your legal day job to do that. Lawyers become investment bankers in cases by osmosis, I would look out for opportunities to work with bankers in your firm and do a great job.

Mr. VC Wannabe

  • Unknown GMAT (not yet taken)
  • 2.8 GPA (top 25% of class)
  • Undergraduate master’s degrees in math and statistics from the Indian Institute of Technology
  • Work experience in a quantitative derivatives role for two years with a bulge bracket bank (Morgan Stanley/Goldman Sachs) with above-average performance
  • Extracurricular involvement as editor of the college newspaper, fiction author, member of winning teams in national dance competitions
  • Fluent in two different Indian languages plus English
  • Goal: To return to finance and eventually manage a venture capital fund
  •  “Should I apply now or wait a couple more years?”
  • First generation graduate

Odds of Success:

MIT: 30% to 40%
INSEAD: 40% to 60%
ESADE: 50% to 70%
IMD: 40% to 50%
IESE: 50% to 70%
IE: 60% to 70%

Sandy’s Analysis: Hmmm, you need to make it super clear that your “2.8″ GPA at IIT was in the top 25 percent of your batch because many U.S. adcoms will not be aware of that, and maybe even Euro adcoms, too. Even though adcoms claim they know this stuff. Someone let me know if this Wikipedia entry about Indian GPAs seems accurate–it does not to me. Make those facts about your GPA clear on resume, in the box they give you to explain odd jive (like age, jail time, etc), and be certain that you submit one of those official GPA converter forms third party and that 3rd Party confirms your view. This is absolutely critical.

Moving right along — and taking your word for being in the top 25% of your class — what we got here is a smart Indian student, first generation college (that counts in USA, they will not care if you are a “village” person or not, I am not sure if European adcoms care if you come from a village or not), fiction author (that can be damaging in some cases, if other parts of your story seem flaky — which is not the case with you, but just saying, not something to brag about if you are liberal arts person with thin quant skills) and super whiz roles at Bulge Bracket, “in a quantitative derivatives role . . . .” No GMAT score.

“I’m looking to get into a program that is strong in quant and analytical skills, with the intention of returning to finance for some years, and eventually manage a VC fund. Should I apply now or wait a couple more years?”

You say you have been working at quant derivatives role for two years ……….well, that and a powerful GMAT (80% on both sides, 720+ or either) will put you in the running at MIT and Chicago, where they actually tolerate quants and financial types, and maybe Wharton as well.

I don’t see how your app at MIT or Chicago gets better if you wait another year, quite frankly, especially in light of your self-reported “above average performance” at work.

Dude, get a GMAT score and apply next year to U.S. schools would be my advice. Europe is different. There you mention these target schools, INSEAD (mean age, 29), ESADE (mean age, 29), IMD (mean age, 31), IESE (mean age, 27) and IE (mean age, ?). In most cases, Euro schools run older than U.S. schools, so you could make a case of waiting another year there.

As to getting in to those Euro schools, based on your classy bulge bracket U.S. job, your high grades from IIT, and what I imagine will be a solid GMAT, you are a solid candidate at those schools, but don’t give them an easy way to ding or waitlist you over the age issue (I am assuming, although you did not say, that you are 26 or so).

Although you did not ask, for the record, and for our curious readers, this profile seems like a reach at HBS and Stanford where “derivatives” is a smelly word, and you don’t have the juice (extraordinary extras, personal identity story) to overcome that.

My last piece of advice: you say your goals are to return to “finance for some years, and eventually manage a VC fund.” Ahem, do a better job of spelling out what return to finance means, and in what roles. Managing a VC fund is not something in your current DNA, as I read this, and it sounds like uninformed dreaming, so don’t say that.

VC managers frequently have private equity or startup success. While it is true you could return to finance, drift over to PE, and then get into VC, well, that is catching two trains, one more than sounds good in an application. Schools like to see career paths that grow out of your background and only pivot once. You could buy a second pivot if it links up strongly with your background, but VC does not appear to do that with you. Derivatives and VC are real, real far apart.

This is where you saying that you write fiction can bite you. Managing a VC fund seems like a career in a novel. Adcoms love to read novels (calling Dee Leopold) but they do not like “fiction meme” stories in applications.

Mr. Civil Servant

  • 710 GMAT
  • 3.08 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in international affairs from George Washington University
  • 3.5 GPA (master’s)
  • Master’s degree in international relations from a top 10 U.K. university
  • Work experience will include one and one-half years doing contract policy advising in Washington and London; one year at a Big Four firm (EY, PwC, KPMG) as a management consultant in London, and three years as a policy adviser/analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense, including a deployment to Afghanistan as a civilian adviser
  • “I have been promoted twice in this time and have been informed I will receive another promotion this summer”
  • Interned during college years in both the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as Parliament in the U.K. and finally at the White House
  • Extracurricular involvement includes crew in college; continue to row on a masters team now; volunteer coach for the crew team at a local high school; volunteer at a quarterly adult learn-to-row program; also involved with and volunteered and fundraised for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and Help for Heroes, both charities that support veterans.
  • Goal: To transition to a top consulting job in an aerospace and defense sector practice or to work in internal strategy for a major defense corporation

Odds of Success:

Wharton: 35% to 40%
Dartmouth: 40% to 50%
Yale: 40% to 45%
Columbia: 30% to 40%
Duke: 50+%
Northwestern: 40% to 50%

Sandy’s Analysis: Well, deeply-likeable profile with a diverse and interesting set of stories, with touches of gold flake (Senate and White House internships in college, British and U.S. civil service gigs, rowing, Wounded Warriors and field work in Afghanistan). On the boo-boo side, to adcoms, not me, is low GPA at so-so college, gut major (which you followed up on and made honest) and OK grad school performance. 710 GMAT is a good one, and a real solid anchor, amid a lot of one-off gigs and contract work.

Your path forward, short term, is rock solid and I could not have said it better: ”transition to MBB in one of their aerospace and defense sector practices or work in internal strategy for a major defense corporation (Boeing, Raytheon, etc.).” As for long-term goals, I would build out some BS on top of that, to wit, wanting to reform, green, innovate and lead in that sector. Huh, what does that mean? Do some homework. One dirty little secret of admissions essay crafting is that a Google search, say for “Innovation + Aerospace”, is often the frist step on the high road to success. That way you become a real nice guy, teaching rowing to high schoolers and geezers, with lots of Brit/US civil service experience, a 710 GMAT, and a pipe full of buzzwords about reforming aero/weapons– a very enticing picture. Wharton is not a Hail Mary (as you suggested). It is more like a really long field goal, given that there is lots to like here. The GMAT can shut up the doubters, and you seem deeply like a future consulting success story.

All that goes more at Tuck, where they totally go for rowers, DOD types, and nice guys. Columbia might go for this but they are most likely to balk at low-ish stats and zig-zag work history. Your projected success as a consultant will appeal to them. Yale is small and so it has less room for hunches about nice guys but there is enough there as well. Fuqua and Kellogg go for regular guys like you.

A lot will depend on execution and interviews — you need to present yourself as being as likeable as your best features. It’s easy to read this and see a guy jumping around from 2nd tier schools and jobs with low GPAs. It is also easy to take a close look and say, “Jeepers, I like this guy.” You need to provoke the 2nd response by dint of story and recs.

Mr. European Naval Engineer

  • 740 GMAT
  • 3.0 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from a reputable European university
  • 3.7 GPA (master’s)
  • Master’s degree in aerospace engineering
  • Work experience as a European naval engineering officer with solid leadership experience, including stints on front line operations (unit achieved all top performance trophies as a result of my efforts) and selected over peers for master’s degree leading to employment in a high profile government science and technology organization
  • Extracurricular involvement as a volunteer with school children to promote careers within engineering
  •  “I worked all through college whilst also training in the Navy reserves might help to explain the GPA”
  • Short-term goal: To develop business skills to complement current leadership and engineering experience
  • Long-term goal: To run a successful engineering and technology company by joining or forming a startup
  • 28-year-old, first generation college graduate (parents didn’t continue past 16)

Odds of Success:

Harvard: 20% to 30%
MIT: 30% to 40%
Northwestern: 40%
Chicago: 30% to 40%
Stanford: 10% to 20%
Berkeley: 40+%

Sandy’s Analysis:

I’m a little confused about what you mean by “European naval engineering officer with solid leadership experience, including stints on front line operations.” Is that an armed force, like a Navy, or do you work for a contractor with gigs on front lines? I am assuming Navy. A good deal of your outcome at HBS and Stanford turns on what exactly you mean by this: “[current] employment in government Science and Technology organisation (high profile).”

Is that a post naval career gig or is that a prestige assignment while you were in the Navy, similar to a U.S. Navy guy being assigned to Pentagon or the Department of Defense in a high profile strategy role.

It would be better if the later (you are still in service) and that you have recs from public policy bigwigs who know how to do this. Most of modern warfare is spent having generals and admirals write recommendations for staffers. Try getting one of them to back you. If you are now out of service and work for hi-profile agency, a solid rec could help as well.

The nature of that agency either way is going to be very important, including how much Stanford or HBS knows about it, and what its track record is in sending kids to business and graduate schools. Your rec. writers have to be very careful to ‘stoop to conquer’ here if the agency is well known in Europe but not in USA. I cannot stress this enough. Euro dudes in general often have problems with American-style recs (they are unaware of the level of BS and bragging and detail that goes into US recs, sometimes think that a few short words will suffice, ‘stiff upper lip, ahem, solid chap, no need for acting queer about this, what??? ‘

Aside from that, and it is a big aside, you got lots to like. Foreign fighting force is always a plus, lots of adcoms like boats, in both theory and practice, naval engineering sounds way cooler somehow than just engineering, or land engineering, and a 740 is a real solid anchor to balance your weak college GPA (grad school grades also a help). First generation college and naval reserves while in college are issues worth highlighting.

Phew, thank God for that GMAT, it brings all this together.

“Volunteering to work with schoolchildren to promote careers within engineering through government run scheme.” That sounds promising if you can flesh it out and there is actually something there.

In conclusion, you are solid, on balance, but to get into HBS or Stanford you will need some stardust. Thus, the current job and what you make of it (and to some extent what it actually is) is critical.

“Long term goal is to run a successful engineering and technology company by joining/forming a startup. Short term is to develop business skills to complement current leadership and engineering experience.” That needs work. Say you want to become a consultant at M/B/B in Aero, talk to the guy with the profile directly above you, and then become a leader of that practice or join/lead an innovative Aero/Engineering blah blah company, if there are any, do some homework, in what the Aerospace-Defense practices at M/B/B do– the link is a cool page on the McKinsey website, a great place to start. Learn the jargon and issues in innovative practices and challenges, and sound like you are going to solve them. It may come true!!!

MIT prides itself on having Aerospace expertise and the campus has a wind tunnel named after the Wright Brothers, the website is also worth a visit. MIT will like your 740 and naval background and they will swoon at the idea of doing cross-campus work with their Aerospace department (everyone loves cross-functional jive on paper just so long as THEY don’t have to do it, and adcoms don’t. That is the beauty of you spinning out this story.)

“Experience on front line operations (unit achieved all top performance trophies as a result of my efforts)”–well, I’m impressed and so will

Berkeley, Kellogg and Booth. Just get your rec writers lined up and prepped and ready to sing like divas, however hard that may be.

You thought combat was tough. Getting some lad to risk his life is easy. They often do it as civilians without any reason at all. Getting some

Lard-butt policy type to write a screaming recommendation is really hard. Good luck.

Handicapping Your MBA Odds – Latest Entries:

Part XLVI: Your Chances Of Getting In
PartXVII: Handicapping Your Elite MBA Odds
PartXVIII: Handicapping Your Shot At An Elite School

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